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Structuring and resourcing your legal team

Last month, The Centre for Legal Leadership hosted the second in a series of webinars in conjunction with Practical Law on structuring and resourcing your legal team. This post highlights some of the themes discussed.

Define your purpose

Firstly, you need to explain the value that Legal provides to your organisation in a language that it understands, which will typically be the language of business planning and finance. For example, by creating and publishing a legal strategy to show what Legal has achieved using management information (MI) and data.

Although a “can do” culture is useful, it is important that Legal is not overwhelmed with non-legal tasks. One way of avoiding this fate is by training the business to undertake some tasks themselves. Educate and empower your colleagues by giving them know-how, such as templates and checklists. Remember to push-back if necessary and direct your resources at problems where lawyers can add the most value.

In-house lawyers need to influence outcomes and avoid simply being reactive. Becoming involved in the business planning process will enable you to spot issues early on and help you focus on your priorities. Lawyers have a full view across the whole organisation and are therefore adept at horizon scanning for future risks. Ensure horizon scanning is integrated with strategic business planning and risk.

Build your relationships

If the relationships and culture in your organisation are not functioning well, no amount of restructuring or resourcing will improve the legal team’s performance. Focus on building relationships with the key players in your organisation (for example, in Procurement, Sales or IT). Ensure that your relationships are at the right level; ideally you want your key contact to be an “intelligent client” who can help identify any upcoming challenges.

Also be on the lookout for the “reluctant client” (who comes to Legal too late, meaning that you are often digging them out of a hole) and the “over-using client” (who regularly turns to Legal for help with non-legal tasks). Make sure the business knows when to turn to Legal and who they should contact in your team about a particular issue.

Understand your organisation’s risk appetite

Having an awareness of your organisation’s risk appetite will enable you to allocate your team’s resources more effectively. Legal threats and risks can change rapidly, so a monthly analysis of risks will enable you to see what is coming down the track. Up-skill your colleagues so that they can help you identify issues and share information if they are seeing any trends.

Explaining legal risks to your organisation is a vital part of an in-house lawyer’s role and it is important to present information clearly in a way that they understand. For example, a legal risk matrix should enable the decision-maker to understand the risk and have confidence when taking it:

  • High risk (Red) = 70% chance of this outcome occurring.
  • Medium risk (Amber) = 50% chance of this outcome occurring.
  • Low risk (Green) = 30% chance of this outcome occurring.

Use data and management information (MI)

Look at how your organisation uses metrics and reporting and replicate that approach for Legal. Metrics can be a useful tool in managing a legal team. For example:

  • If you have a fixed legal budget, you can demonstrate how that budget is being spent.
  • Quarterly reporting can help you understand the mix of legal staff that is delivering the work and help you avoid over-lawyering.
  • Fairly detailed time recording can help with resource planning.
  • Being able to break projects down into individual elements is useful when deciding how much resource will be required.
  • Metrics can show where your resources are currently deployed and offer insights into where resources should be deployed in the future.

Be creative: make the most of what you have

In-house legal teams typically have flat management structures, which means there are few chances to move internally. It is therefore important to offer lawyers opportunities to move to different business functions within your organisation (for example, see Article, Beyond the legal department: a secondment to Finance). You could also consider asking your lawyers to swop positions with their counterparts on your panel firms.

Be honest about the skills your team has and those that you require, share best practice and ensure that the work is being done at the most competent junior level. Lawyers should also be encouraged to develop their non-legal skills, such as leadership and management. Find out whether any talent schemes exist in your organisation as lawyers are often reluctant to push themselves forward.

Be prepared to try new things and see if they work. For example:

  • More project-based working.
  • Increased use of technology, such as creating a digital portal that clients can use for self-service of some legal questions.
  • Making the most of paralegals.
  • Using alternative legal service providers.

Recruitment is an important tool in managing a legal department and it is vital that you understand how to pitch effectively for resources within your organisation. For example, by making your request at the correct point in the business planning cycle. Remember that recruiting into a legal team is no longer just about hiring lawyers, sometimes a legal operations specialist or a legal project manager may be required. Similarly, identify and second any specialists within your organisation who may assist the legal team, such as analysts or administrators.

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